BELIZE CITY, Mon. Aug. 17, 2015–Minister of Foreign Affairs and Attorney General Hon. Wilfred “Sedi” Elrington told Amandala this morning that the government is “very satisfied” with how the Belize Territorial Volunteers’ expedition went yesterday on the Sarstoon River, despite widespread reports that the Guatemalan navy harassed Belizeans in our territorial waters.
“There was clear evidence that the Guatemalan navy boats were trespassing in Belize territorial waters yesterday; in that case, will your Ministry of Foreign Affairs send a diplomatic note of protest to the Guatemalan authorities?” Amandala asked Elrington.
“Fortunately, we had taken the precaution of having the OAS people present, and they are going to do a report on it, and as soon as we get the report, depending on what it consists of, we are going to take a decision,” Elrington replied.
Elrington admitted that the Belize Government will not act on the assertions by the BTV that Guatemalan naval boats accosted them in Belize territorial waters.
“I don’t know if they know when they are in Belize territorial waters. There is nothing demarcating there,” Elrington remarked.
Elrington insisted that the Government of Belize will not do anything about the “alleged” Guatemalan incursion into Belize territorial waters until it gets a report from the OAS.
Amandala asked the Foreign Minister if it would not have been prudent on the part of the government to have its own eyes on the situation in the Sarstoon River yesterday.
Elrington said the government was monitoring the events from the beginning to the end of the expedition.
“The Belize government had the situation monitored from the inception to the termination. The Government of Belize is a very responsible government. We took every precaution,” Elrington explained.
“How can you say that the government was monitoring the situation on the Sarstoon River yesterday and you still need to await a report from the OAS to act on clear violation of Belize sovereignty?” Amandala asked Elrington.
“I have received no report that there was an incursion of Guatemalans into Belize territorial waters yesterday,” Elrington said.
“Well, that was all over the airwaves yesterday, from two radio stations which were broadcasting live comments from people who were on the expedition and had called in to describe what was happening,” we informed the Minister. We also explained that some of the people who were commenting on the situation on the Sarstoon River were responsible members of the media.
“I am saying to you that I do not take the word of the media as gospel. I prefer to take the word of an impartial third party, participant or witness. When we receive word from that third party or participant, the government is going to take whatever steps is necessary,” responded Elrington.
Amandala asked Elrington if the government would also lodge a protest at the United Nations, but he said, “We are not dealing at this level with the United Nations. We don’t have a Belize/Guatemala dispute; we have an agreement to take the matter to the International Court of Justice, subject to a referendum.”
“If the Belizean people say we don’t want to go to the ICJ, that is the end of the matter,” he stated.
“Given what happened yesterday on the Sarstoon River, how does that speak to the much touted ‘Confidence Building Measures between Belize and Guatemala?’” we asked him.
“We need to get the report, and then we can act. You don’t want me to preempt the situation by speaking out of turn,” Elrington offered. He went on to say, “I don’t know what transpired out there. I was not present, but the government was well-represented there in all aspects. We will get a report from our Coast Guard. We will get a report from the Belize Defence Force. We will get a report from the Port Authority.”
Elrington said that he has to follow the established protocol that he found at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and noted that “any alleged incursion, whether on the Guatemalan side or the Belize side of the adjacency zone, will involve the OAS.”
Amandala pointed out to Elrington that the Sarstoon River does not form a part of the adjacency zone, and is therefore not the responsibility of the OAS.
Elrington, however, said that the truth is that the OAS has nothing to do with down south, but both Belize and Guatemala requested them to be present.
In reference to the Sarstoon Island expedition, he said, “But they couldn’t reach. Nobody was on Sarstoon Island yesterday; the water was too shallow and their boats couldn’t go.”
He said that what the Belizean people don’t understand is that this situation can have negative repercussions for the entire region.
“It is for that reason that the entire region authorized the OAS Secretariat to monitor it. We seem to be the only people who don’t seem to understand the danger we are in, under the misguided idea of patriotism, and sovereignty. There’s a limit to both of them. To want to go and tangle with a country that is so big, you got to be idiotic,” he remarked.
Elrington asked, “What do you all want to do? Create problems for an innocent people. We have lived side by side with Guatemala without any problems. Why do you all want to change that?”
“What would you have done if the Guatemalans had stopped them yesterday”, Elrington asked.
“So why is the government so adamantly opposed to the Belize Territorial Volunteers’ efforts to demarcate the borders between the two countries?” Amandala asked Elrington.
“You don’t demarcate borders like that by a country of 14 million people; you have to be an idiot,” Elrington said.
Elrington said that in 1981, Belize gained its independence with all of its territory intact as recognized by the 1859 treaty, but by 1991, Belize gave away 9 miles of sea to Guatemala in the southern part of the country under a misguided thing called the Maritime Areas Act.
Elrington said that yesterday, it was the Guatemalans who extended courtesy to the BTV and allowed 3 of 4 of their boats to go around the island.
That assertion by the Foreign Minister was flatly denied by two Amandala staffers who were on the expedition. Sports editor Charles X Hyde said that the Guatemalans’ actions yesterday were anything but “courtesy.” “The Guatemalans insisted that we were in Guatemalan waters and did everything to prevent us from going on the island”, he said.
Amandala reporter Albert Ciego agreed, showing pictures of a Guatemalan military boat neck-and-neck with one of the BTV’s boats, trying to stop the boat from going to Sarstoon Island.
Elrington said the information that he got was that four of the boats were allowed to go into Guatemalan territorial waters to facilitate the BTV going around the island.
“I am not saying that is the truth. I am waiting to see the report from the OAS,” he said.